The language of young love: The ways couples talk can predict relationship success

Jan 25, 2011

We know that people tend to be attracted to, date, and marry other people who resemble themselves in terms of personality, values, and physical appearance. However, these features only skim the surface of what makes a relationship work. The ways that people talk are also important. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that people who speak in similar styles are more compatible.

The study focused on words called "function words." These aren't nouns and verbs; they're the words that show how those words relate. They're hard to explicitly define, but we use them all the time—words like the, a, be, anything, that, will, him, and and. How we use these words constitutes our writing and speaking style, says study coauthor James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin.

"Function words are highly social and they require social skills to use," he says. "For example, if I'm talking about the article that's coming out, and in a few minutes I make some reference to 'the article,' you and I both know what the article means." But someone who wasn't part of that conversation wouldn't understand.

Pennebaker, Molly Ireland, and their colleagues examined whether the speaking and writing styles couples adopt during conversation with each other predict future dating behavior and the long-term strength of relationships. They conducted two experiments in which a computer program compared partners' language styles.

In the first study, pairs of college students had four-minute speed dates while their conversations were recorded. Almost every pair covered the same topics: What's your major? Where are you from? How do you like college? Every conversation sounded more or less the same to the naked ear, but text analysis revealed stark differences in language synchrony. The pairs whose language style matching scores were above average were almost four times as likely to want future contact as pairs whose speaking styles were out of sync.

A second study revealed the same pattern in everyday online chats between dating couples over the course of 10 days. Almost 80 percent of the couples whose writing style matched were still dating three months later, compared with approximately 54 percent of the who didn't match as well.

What people are saying to each other is important, but how they are saying it may be even more telling. People aren't consciously synchronizing their speech, Pennebaker says. "What's wonderful about this is we don't really make that decision; it just comes out of our mouths."

Explore further: Religious music brings benefit to seniors' mental health

Related Stories

Humans Imitate Aspects of Speech We See

Aug 05, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- New research by UC Riverside shows that unintentional speech imitation can make us sound like people whose voices we never hear.

Linguists to re-think reason for short words

Jan 25, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Linguists have thought for many years the length of words is related to the frequency of use, with short words used more often than long ones. Now researchers in the US have shown the length is more closely ...

Recommended for you

Religious music brings benefit to seniors' mental health

Apr 18, 2014

A new article published online in The Gerontologist reports that among older Christians, listening to religious music is associated with a decrease in anxiety about death and increases in life satisfaction, self-e ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NotAsleep
3 / 5 (2) Jan 25, 2011
My girlfriend and I are in perfect sync when speaking. When she says "Jump", my immediate response is "How high?" There's no delay or misinterpretation. The article is correct, I don't even think about the response. Sometimes I just find myself jumping and thinking to myself "Oh, I must've been instructed to jump again!"

And we're absolutely in love :)
paulthebassguy
5 / 5 (1) Jan 25, 2011
awwww how cute.

More news stories

Cancer stem cells linked to drug resistance

Most drugs used to treat lung, breast and pancreatic cancers also promote drug-resistance and ultimately spur tumor growth. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have discovered ...

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.